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B.C.'s premier delivers order to save emails after blistering privacy report

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark fields a question at the closing news conference of the summer meeting of Canada's premiers in St. John's on Friday, July 17, 2015. Clark has ordered her cabinet ministers and all political staff save their emails in response to a stinging report released by the provincial information and privacy commissioner.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
October 23, 2015 - 9:00 PM

VICTORIA - British Columbia Premier Christy Clark ordered her cabinet ministers and all political staff Friday to save their emails after a stinging report criticized the government's access to information practices.

Clark's directive comes after Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said she identified major information failures in the premier's office and two of her government ministries.

"I thought, we thought, that everything was being done properly," Clark said in a telephone interview from Merritt, B.C. "There's been really no change in the way things have been done for a decade. We welcome the commissioner's report."

In July 2011, Clark posted a YouTube video message about her commitment to open government to British Columbians.

"To me open government is about a different way of communicating," she said. "It's about using all the tools at our disposal to connect the public to government in new and meaningful ways."

Clark noted B.C. was the first province in Canada to launch an open data website, opening the government's data to the public.

Denham's report released Thursday highlighted negligent searches for records, failure to keep adequate email records, a failure to document searches and the wilful destruction of records in response to freedom of information requests.

"What I have said to staff today: all political staff and all ministers, I have directed that none of them delete any emails they have sent, starting today," Clark said.

She said she expected her government members to do their utmost to follow the regulations of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Clark's directive remains in effect until former B.C. privacy commissioner David Loukidelis advises the government on addressing the 11 recommendations in Denham's report. Loukidelis, a former B.C. deputy attorney general, was called in by the Liberal government in response to Denham's report released on Thursday.

"We're going to use that information to update everything that we do and make sure we are meeting not just (Denham's) expectations but really meeting the public's expectations," Clark said.

Opposition New Democrat Leader John Horgan said Clark admitted the Liberals have been breaking B.C.'s freedom of information laws for the past decade.

"I'm concerned the government doesn't seem to understand that this information does not belong to them," he said. "It's not about them looking good or bad."

Denham's report said the broad interpretation of so-called transitory records in the premier's office resulted in almost all daily emails sent by the premier's deputy chief of staff being deleted.

She recommends in her 65-page report that legislation be created that enforces a duty to document key government decisions. The report also calls for installation of technology preventing employees from permanently deleting emails.

The issue came to light when government whistleblower Tim Duncan said his supervisor in the Transportation Ministry deleted emails from his computer about the Highways of Tears investigation.

Duncan submitted a complaint to Denham's office alleging ministerial assistant George Gretes "triple deleted" his computer records that were needed for a freedom of information request about the Highway of Tears investigation into murdered and missing women.

Duncan was fired from his job with the B.C. Liberals last March.

Denham's report stated she interviewed Gretes under oath multiple times and concluded he didn't completely respond to freedom of information requests and allegedly lied about it under oath. She said she alerted the RCMP in connection to the man's testimony.

Gretes resigned his government position on Thursday, the day Denham's report was released.

The report contains unproven allegations against Gretes, who could not be reached for comment.

His Victoria lawyer, Chris Considine, had no comment. RCMP Staff Sgt. Rob Vermeulen said Thursday that they were reviewing the allegation.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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